How NOT to write about music – 90. Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish
Reinforcement. That’s what music journalism usually provides, not searching out new routes, supplying treasure maps to undreamed-of troves, expanding minds. Reinforcement. You want your taste validated, reinforced… well, come this way. Walk this way. Talk this way. You know you don’t really need a seal of approval, an award, a plaque on your wall stating what great aesthetic choices you make on a day-to-day basis, but… well. It’s still nice, isn’t it? Get an expert in to agree with you. Check your DIY plumbing and vouchsafe for its sturdiness. In the absence of any friends…

The shocker for me is the way I often validate myself, sometimes unknowingly. I wrote about Lizzo yesterday, but I first wrote about Lizzo six years ago (thanks to a then brand-new writer Lee Adcock). I knew how cool Billie Eilish was the first time I heard her on the Radio One Breakfast Show. The review I wrote then remains inch-perfect and I see no reason to change it now.

I have this on constant repeat and it races round my head on a loop of delight and discovery. It is playful, it teases but it is also maudlin and it depresses. It is conflicted, confused. I love conflicted, confused. That is my main jam in life. Feeling conflicted. Such a natural pace and rhythm and timing. The way it stops and then jolts awake. The way it jolts awake and then screams silently and then stops and then runs away and then loops around once more. The way it falls asleep. The Way It Keeps You In The Dark. We all fall asleep. We all feel excited and depressed and maudlin and charged simultaneously. We all like to be playful with our darkest spirits. We all crush. We all crash. We call crush.

If I could I would put this review on an endless timeless loop so it keeps disappearing and reappearing every five minutes. And…


Should I pad this out? Careful.

And yet… I seek to reinforce what I have already written. Right now. Right here. I cannot allow such a wonderful moment as what happened over the weekend at Glastonbury to go unremarked upon. Right now. Right here. Is it remarkable that she bounces on the balls of her feet all the way across the stage and exhorts the crowd to join in on the joy? No. Of course not. Billie. Look at the way she dresses! She’s real! Listen to the way she sings! She’s real! Listen to that joy, that knowledge. Billie.

The NME has it right: a once-in-a-generation show. Every time I hear this, ‘Bad Guy’, the album… I am so happy. I think of my two youngest dancing, and I am so happy. I think of myself dancing and I am so happy. I think of Billie dancing across the stage at Glastonbury and I am so happy.

What a time to be alive.


How NOT to write about music – 89. Lizzo



A few days ago, I had a couple of Facebook friends pull me up sharply for negativity. I chose to focus on the fact Liam Gallagher had been wheeled out again to headline at the most beloved-by-the-establishment-of-all-‘alternative’-festivals, and contrasted this fact unfavourably with…

Well, basically…


My friends were correct to pull me up. Who gives a fuck about one single retro white male playing to the balconies when there are Janelle and Billie and Christine and the inimitable Billie also headlining across various stages – Stormzy too, of course – when all around friends and allies and insurrectionists are getting full-on inspired by the profusion of confusion on offer. And fuck Chris Martin taking on the Evan Dando role.

Duh. This is one of 2019’s defining moments. Duh.

And FUCK YEAH! to this. I haven’t even begun to process how wonderful this is:

But none of them compare to, “I want you to sing this song like it’s fucking YOURS, like it belongs to you and you only” and Lizzo’s society-crumbling flute. The crowd make it. Absolutely. Music has never been just about the performance, it has always been about the reception as well. But obv it does not hurt one bit if the performer is total 1970s soul sister-style inspirational…



10 Most Read Entries on How NOT To Write About Music (June 2019)


1 (1) How NOT to write about music – 27. Television Personalities
I have been aware for as long as I can recall that music has provided me with a sense of belonging, a sense of community and sharing, give and take. And if that no longer exists then surely that is my fault and no more and no less than I deserve. Music scorns me like a former lover. Back when I knew Alan McGee and Dan Treacy in the early 1980s the music provided a palpable sense of belonging, clubs like (Alan’s) Living Room at the Adams Arms and (Dan and Emily’s) Room At The Top (Chalk Farm Enterprise) providing a living community of outsiders, bloaters, the braggarts and the bullies, the shy and the emotional, the Sixties obsessed guitar freaks and the psychedelic losers. Alan gave me Dan, Dan gave me Marine Girls and so much inspiration in his own personal, heart-torn songs – no separation between performance and performer, much as Dan attempted to insert some. Amazing fucking pop songs.

2 (7) How NOT to write about music – 31. Mumford & Sons
Mumford & Sons is shit, Cath Kitson folk shit, Occado Levellers shit. Shout it from the tops of night buses and at office parties. Waistcoat-bothering, fake folk dinner party shit. Slumming shit. Tweed clad, Morris-dancing jizz wizard shit. Tripe shit that needs to be sellotaped to a Frisbee and thrown into a fire shit. Mumford & Sons is shit. They make Bono sound restrained. They make Billy Corgan shine with integrity, Ed Sheeran shine with an inner fire, Trump dance the media with rascal grace. They put the grey into perspective.

3 (-) ET’s 30 favourite songs of 2018
1. Suburban Death Twitch – A Layer of Fat and Mold
One dear friend saw Brighton’s Suburban Death Twitch perform recently and found himself dismayed and more than a little angry that such casual, soulful brilliance should go unrecognised. He has little recourse to publicity like many of us, so he used what he could. He bought a copy of their new EP for me, knowing that I could not fail to love this beautiful, soulful music (like a general scouring in the area that involves ABBA’s break-up albums, the mould at the back of your fridge, half the towns of Hastings and St Leonard’s, the three-point acerbic harmonies of The Roches, the wayward belligerent swagger of Band Of Holy Joy#metoo, friends that still cannot grasp why half their world seems to give up soon as they have a steady revenue and a person, any person, to fill the void, and so forth).

4 (-) How NOT to write about music – 43. Bikini Kill
How did you hear about riot grrrl?
“Oh jeez. So long ago. I used to travel to Olympia whenever Sub Pop flew me out to Seattle – it was one of my great, secret pleasures: turn up there, sleep on Calvin Johnson’s floor at The Martin (first time I visited there, I even recorded a single with Calvin and Tobi Vail in the garage at Tobi’s parents’ house), berate him for the Skrewdriver poster on his wall, drink hot chocolate and go to all-night dance parties, and delight in the fact alcohol didn’t seem to exist in Olympia. How little I knew! My early friends there were Nikki McLure, Calvin, Al Larsen, Lois Maffeo and Tae from Kicking Giant. I delighted in visiting the K warehouse – which was in a tiny apartment above a garage shop or something right near the Capitol Theatre – and avariciously buying up every last cassette and fanzine and seven-inch single Calvin was distributing, on Melody Maker expenses.”

5 (2) How NOT to write about music – 26. Kristin Hersh
I want to write about Kristin’s new album but the music keeps intruding, in a way music rarely – if ever – does when I am attempting to write about it. Full immersion. The way the music and guitar lollops and loops and curves, and throws off sunshine and charm (NB: stolen from press release), the way her voice sounds wise beyond understanding, the way a pink birthing ball is resting over there by the torn-out fireplace, the shallowness of my breathing, the tears splattered across my car’s windscreen… I find myself unequal to the task. She’s not.

6 (-) How NOT to write about music – 51. Ryan Adams
Some of us have always hated Ryan Adams. The following is reprinted from Music That I Like, 2017.

7 (3) WORLD EXCLUSIVE! Live review of ‘fake’ metal band THREATIN at Camden Underworld
Surely, this is of interest? We were there. “Three people show up and one of them’s a music journalist! Jammy bastard! What are the chances of that?” Quite high, actually. It’s what we do. As keen metal fans here at How NOT To Write About Music, we posted this report a couple of days ago – but no one paid attention. So here it is again: whether the band is ‘real’ or not is not of importance to us here at How NOT To Write About Music. To us, they were real when they played. What is far more important is the question: does the band rock? And trust us, like you’ve never trusted a music critic before: this band… well, read for yourselves.

8 (-) How NOT to write about music – 48. Billie Eilish
I have this on constant repeat and it races round my head on a loop of delight and discovery. It is playful, it teases but it is also maudlin and it depresses. It is conflicted, confused. I love conflicted, confused. That is my main jam in life. Feeling conflicted. Such a natural pace and rhythm and timing. The way it stops and then jolts awake. The way it jolts awake and then screams silently and then stops and then runs away and then loops around once more. The way it falls asleep. The Way It Keeps You In The Dark. We all fall asleep. We all feel excited and depressed and maudlin and charged simultaneously. We all like to be playful with our darkest spirits. We all crush. We all crash. We call crush.

8 (-) Pete Shelley R.I.P.
First band I ever saw.
The initial incarnation of Buzzcocks (and yes, I’d include ‘Spiral Scratch’ in that, and the three final singles) is about the most perfect incarnation of a pop group ever.
Greatest run of seven-inch singles in the history of pop music.
Greatest run of albums ever.

God damn. Pete, you were so special.

10 (5) Everett True’s 10 favourite albums of all time* … and one that changed his life
This is reprinted from my Brisbane website Collapse Board, originally written for an Australian publication that never ran with the article. My original intro pretty much covers it – to this list of omissions I would now add most obviously Beyoncé (Lemonade, duh), but also St Vincent, some gospel (this, for instance), Blind Blake, Metal Box (PiL), more ska and bluebeat for sure, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and dub reggae circa late 1970s, Talking Heads, Undertones, Tunabunny, Little Mix, some female grime (this, for instance – or this), my own stuff, Miley Cyrus (seriously), The Cramps, The Saints, The Go-Betweens (but also this!), The Roches’ first two, Daniel Johnston and so forth.

11 (-) How NOT to write about music – 79. Bikini Kill
12 (-) How NOT to write about music – 33. Muse
13 (4) How NOT to write about music – 25. Salad
14 (-) How NOT to write about music – 78. Bruce Springsteen
15 (-) How NOT to write about music – 72. Tropical Fuck Storm
16 (-) How NOT to write about music – 80. Radiohead
17 (-) How NOT to write about music – 67. The Membranes
18 (-) How NOT to write about music – 35. Buzzcocks
19 (-) How NOT to write about music – 75. Morrissey
20 (-) How NOT to write about music – 58. Michael Jackson

…from which I can extrapolate, my blog is slowly (very slowly) picking up readers. So thank you for that.

How NOT to write about music – 81. Sir Babygirl


OK. Three reasons why you should never reduce music criticism to simple box ticking, process and naming delineation. The closer something seems to get to you, the more it will squirm away. Do not be reductionist or give in to the temptation to place everything into neatly labelled boxes: embrace the confusion, embrace the distraction. If something can be that easily categorised in the first place, that says more about you as the listener, as the consumer, then it will ever do about the artist. The title of this music blog is How NOT to write about music, remember?

Herein follows the first lesson.

This is what the music/muse of Sir Babygirl sounds and looks like:

  1. Like a cross between the musical box scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Chicago, The Powerpuff Girls and The Craft.
  2. Like a cross between Kate Nash, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Grimes, Billie Eilish, Fall Out Boy and Hannah Diamond.
  3. Just a great pop song from a non-binary drag character (her words, not mine).

Do you understand what I am saying here? Never give in to the temptation to simplify. Never allow yourself to be seduced by the idea you know more than the next person. You almost certainly don’t and even if you do, their turn of phrase is probably more eloquent and appealing than yours. You CANNOT get a sense of Sir Babygirl’s beautiful, buoyant, challenging pop music from the above points. And you couldn’t, even if they were relevant.

All I am doing here is pointing out the process. Most music journalism hides the process (a little) better than this. Whatever. Have yourself a listen anyway. Don’t be distracted.

This next one is kinda way better cos it’s way more irritating (NOT an insult).

Someone on YouTube described it as “like the Bisexual acid trip version of ‘Summer Nights’ from Grease which is probably even more asinine and incomplete a description then even those crap one-liners above, but it”s funnier and anyway, what you gonna do? In a world where Boris Johnson is accepted for his perceived “charm” over any more obvious abilities you gotta run against the crowd.

How NOT to write about music – 68. The Regrettes


I was reading a couple of entries I made on my old Brisbane blog: so lively and full of ready comparisons and touch points. A riot of imagination and enthusiasm. Some of the time, the references even made sense. Something about outdoor living (even if the closest you get to the outdoors is opening up all the doors onto the deck of your Queenslander so the sunlight is streaming in and you can hear the wind tumbling through the numerous trees right outside your house). Now, I glance out of my window in Haywards Heath and note the phone wires vaguely blotting the sky, my neighbour’s van parked outside and the fact that – for the first time in over 25 years – I am not living in a house on a hill. Subsumed. I wanna let go of that – and sure, when I am with colleagues and students at BIMM London I am not dwelling on that, although the fact my life is in a constant state of flux, always travelling on the way to somewhere, alone, is unavoidable – but often find it impossible.

I no longer sit at my computer in the evenings, instead watching old kids’ movies and wishing my kids were there with me.

So. Pop music. A few years ago, I was all over this band – loved them, enraptured, a music crush for sure, swimming in the clouds and dancing among the trees, the rasp in the voice, the laughter in the guitars, the sheer Go! Violets factor of it all (their song ‘Teenager’ remains one of the greatest pop songs of the past six years) – but now when I search for what I wrote about this kick-ass LA pop band a couple of years ago, I cannot even find anything.

Played ’em to death on the way up to Guildford, I did.

That’s Guildford for you.

This new song is not as gleeful as that fucking INSPIRED Christmas cover but… what is?

What the fuck is?

it still kicks ass and wobbles my belly.

As I wrote then:

Polished. Too polished? Right now, no such beast exists. Tightly wound. Coiled. Plays the obvious cards in its hand. N’owt wrong with that. “I’m not like anybody else/So you can just go fuck yourself,” the ladies spit before reverting to sackcloth and surf guitar. Good form.

Or alternately:

Think of me as the lonely backwards uncle you never wanted to know. I venture out-of-doors determined not to miss Bent before I leave town and then discover I’ve compounded my crime. (Crime? If loving music is a crime then lock me up and throw away the key. And other such meaningless cliches.) MotherFUCK. Er. (name left blank) create the sort of raw, untrammeled, dissolute, claustrophobic, depressed, repetitive, surging, hopeful, bittersweet, dissonant, melodic, beautiful raw, beautiful cool, beautiful dispossessed, beautiful minimal, beautiful beautiful punk pop music I’ve ALWAYS loved, and I was but 50 minutes (and a resultant 10.2 km walk back) aware from witnessing it in the flesh. I’ve just discovered they’re from Sydney. Fer fuck’s sake. Do you think if I get down on bended knee I might be able to convince them to come back down to Brisbane before the end of June just to play a set for me? Just me and a two-pack of kitchen roll to catch the saliva uncontrollably drooling from my ears. I mean mouth. I mean ears.

Yeah, that was me then.

And this is my now. I love this new Regrettes song possibly more than even this. Savage.

How NOT to write about music – 66. SOPHIE


OMG (etc_). How did this pass me by (etc_)? Big SHOUT OUT to Cindy Stern on FB (etc_). Shades of TG, BK, CXCX, BE and CV (etc). OMG (etc_). Epilepsy-inducing (etc_), not always. Wonderful, near always (etc_). PC Music (etc_). Innovative, inventive, solipsistic, lipstick, terrifying, blunt, fluid, challenging (etc_). None of the above (etc_).

The next one is shorter if you don’t have (etc_).

Yeah, and (etc_). Wait, and there’s (etc_), like you didn’t know already. Some kind of sex  (etc_). This is the, wait which word do the letters f-u spell out for (etc_). F-U-C-K, wrong (etc_), no you have it wrong. F-U future (etc_).

An un-update (etc_), like I don’t obsess already (etc_). Like the Ramones sang, I don’t wanna grow (etc_). Not Ramones, Waits, but you know what I (etc_).

This is one hell of a (etc_).

How NOT to write about music – 54. The 1975

The 1975 Brits

I’m increasingly of the opinion that The 1975 are the greatest rock band in the world right now. (Note: define rock.) (Note: I am using the traditional (male) definition here because of course there is no way that the greatest rock band in the world right now are male.) This 1975 song reminds me of XTC circa ‘Senses Working Overtime’. (Note: it sounds nothing like it.) (Note: I am talking about the way the vocals have been treated, and the modulations, the pauses for breath. Not the content.) Between this and the new Billie Eilish one, it can be quite exciting listening to the Radio One Breakfast Show these days. Fact of the matter is: politics, sex, a sense of belonging. Fact of the matter is: jarring, explosive, political, not pandering. Fact of the matter is: passionate.

Living on the edge. Nervy. Living on the edge. “Is this song your jam, dad? Is it? Is it?” I don’t know, give me a chance. I like the Billy Eilish one. Give me a chance. “Is this song your jam, dad?”

Give me a chance.

“We need to stay angry and we need to stay woke.”

Here is singer Matt Healy at the Brits last week:

“I just want you to listen to me for one sec. Just a couple of sentences that a friend of ours, Laura Snapes said this, and I thought that we should all really, really think about it,” Healy said before quoting Snapes as she described her written response after a misogynistic remark was made about her by Mark Kozelek. “She said that in music, male misogynists acts are examined for nuance and defended as traits of difficult artists. Whilst women and those that call them out are treated as hysterics who don’t understand art.”

I’m guessing Radio One didn’t play the opening lines:

We’re fucking in a car, shooting heroin
Saying controversial things just for the hell of it

Most people sing like they’re singing in the shower. Not Healy. He’s too intent on being intense. Fellow chart-botherer Lewis Capaldi sings like he’s been sitting on the toilet for 20 minutes now, unable to get relief. Strain. Reach those notes. Strain. Reach those notes.

I’m just sayin’.

I think this is a prime fit for sexuality. This song makes me want to go right back to their concert and hear them play this song all over again. It was the one they closed with and it left the biggest impact. Matty (the lead singer) asked for his little speech before the song to be kept a secret between him and everyone else at the venue and so I’ll do that for him. But honestly no matter if you’re watching the music video on youtube, seeing them in concert or watching them doing a live version on youtube as well, everything about this band is unreal. I could go on forever about how much I love the 1975 but I’ll stop now and leave this here.
“Being a sexually empowered woman doesn’t make you a slut or a slag” | Songs related to sexuality

I am just sayin’.

“You learn a couple of things when you get to my age.”

Like, community matters. Like, when the magic dispels and the glamour fades and the paper bag is finally removed from Charlie Brown’s head, no one is interested. A solo heartfelt performance witnessed by no one. Everyone has better things to do, more appropriate people to call. Like, why not give yourself a try? At the age of 29 or 57, it does not matter. OBSERVATION: that dude from The 1975 is like Brian Molko crossed with Harley Quinn. OBSERVATION: this song from The 1975 does not pander, does not talk down (except everywhere). OBSERVATION: killer riff.

“And what will you say to your younger self?”

Like, family matters. Much as you might like to pretend it doesn’t and that you can cut yourself adrift, run wild and free and with no thought for collecting friends or kudos or security. Much as you love to pretend you were early, you were late. OBSERVATION: killer riff. Seriously killer riff. You couldn’t be more wrong actually, I’m unbelievably sentimental. Have you missed me? I sure as fuck have missed you. Where did you go? Why did you go? No, wait. I think I understand that. OBSERVATION: The 1975 are great because The 1975 are both cliched and wrong. Wrong is always attractive in pop music ESPECIALLY when you are not exposed to pop music. When you are exposed to pop music, and in the context of Nick Grimshaw’s Radio One breakfast show, The 1975 are fucking GENIUS. How can they even get away with playing this shit? (Well, simply. It’s a killer riff and they can talk over the words.)

“And I was 25 and afraid to go outside.”

Every time, Daniel goes “You like this song don’t you dad?” as I’m negotiating another two cars parked on a blind corner, cyclists holding up a line of 30 cars treating the country roads like their own personal gymnasium, horns blaring in fading frustration, another couple of hundred quid added to the bodywork bill. And I’m like, “NOT NOW DANIEL” and then realise how I am too late and stutter an apology for my grumpiness, my lack of good humour. He’s right, I do like this fucking song. A lot. Killer guitars, Killer riff. And now I’ve listened to it eight straight times on YouTube I like it even more – smart lyrics. Smart, smart lyrics.

I am just sayin’.